Akiko Kuno, 72, believes her destiny is tied with a red string to the United States. So she says as she speaks of her and her family's life at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, where as a child she first tasted Coca-Cola and a hamburger.

Kuno's red string stretches back through her mother and her grandmother to her great-grandmother, Sutematsu Oyama, the first Japanese woman to graduate from an American university — at the top of her class and as valedictorian of Vassar College's class of 1882.

Like all the women in her family, Kuno is an exemplar — a woman who has followed her own path despite the strong social and family pressures of Japanese society.